Comic Book Page Composition

When doing layouts for a comic book page, the artist considers a variety of options quickly. Working with the script to tell the story as best as possible, one breaks down the page in a series of panels. Each of those panels has its own composition, but must also work within the overall page composition. Each panel is presented from various points of view, which correspond to and support all the other panels. And through it all, the artist must make sure the information and story is communicated clearly and doesn't lose the reader. The challenge is to make the art and layout fun and interesting, while still following sound and solid storytelling and layout principles. For example, here's a page from Dreams Of Looking Up, an historical and educational comic book I drew for the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe. dolu13_diagram.jpg In this page, we see an old woman looking at photos and a painting of an eagle, recalling her youth. The page begins in the past, the young woman holding her baby, looking up at an eagle taking off from its nest on a high peak. I decided a long, vertical panel would best depict this, also establishing a connection (both physical and emotional) between the young woman and her surroundings. This long vertical panel on the left is balanced by a column of panels on the right. The trick is to make sure the reader doesn't just skip to the last panel. In that regard, I have a few things going for me here. In America, folks are trained from early on to read from top-to-bottom, left-to-right, so it's ingrained and natural. In that first panel, though the vertical shape pulls the eye down to the woman and the baby, even for a split second, the reader's eye is pulled back up (rather than to the right) to see the eagle, and follows its flight path to the first caption, which is bridged between frames one and two, linking us to the row of panels on the right. Now, it's possible the reader will be drawn to the eagle, then to the caption, or directly to the caption (as indicated by the diagrammatic dotted red line above), but people take in images rapidly, and you'd be hard pressed to convince me a reader wouldn't see the entire first panel, even if only for an instant, before their eyes dart back to the top. Once there, readers will follow smoothly south, reading words and pictures 'til rejoining the present day conversation between her grandchildren. This is just one page out of twenty-four in this particular comic book story, each presenting its own layout and storytelling challenges. A lot of thought goes into each panel, each page, each story at this stage, before the real drawing begins. This page, and more pages from this book and its companion volume can be viewed in our Prime Projects section. Or order your own copies at the official Mille Lacs Band web site.

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